Those familiar with my work will be aware of my interest in post-industrial landscapes, coastal hinterlands and 20th century architecture. In this brief post, I’d like to shed some light on the thoughts and observations behind my most recent work in and around Woolwich.
I’ve lived and worked in south-east London for over a decade, never far from the River Thames. For me, the Thames is many things. It’s a place of constant change, full of unlikely juxtapositions; of the old and new, of the natural and man-made. From a purely visual viewpoint, its riverscape is rich in contrasting texture, colour and form.
Having walked, cycled and photographed the northern and southern banks of the Thames over many years, I have come to know them well. Inevitably, if not wholly intentionally, my photographs of the area have become an evolving document of change as time passes.
Downriver between the Thames Barrier and the Woolwich Ferry, the pace of change north and south of the Thames has diverged markedly. Whilst development in Woolwich (notably at the Royal Arsenal) has revived its fortunes, the same cannot be said about its namesake across the river, North Woolwich.
Formerly an anomalous part of Kent, North Woolwich was absorbed into the London Borough of Newham in 1965. Its history and character have been dominated by industries including cable works, shipbuilding and power generation. All of these have long vanished and to the list of departures we may add North Woolwich railway station and the Old Railway Museum. Today, North Woolwich is a bleak and deprived area. Although, the DLR extension reached North Woolwich (via King George V station) in December 2005, it has had little obvious impact on the prosperity of the area. A southward glance at the renewal of Woolwich itself, since the DLR’s arrival there in 2009, provides a telling contrast.
More recently, North Woolwich has been filleted anew by construction works for its Crossrail portal, dividing Factory Road and Albert Road along the old North London Line. To add insult to injury, Crossrail services will not stop in North Woolwich. Whilst the coming of Crossrail to Woolwich itself has driven its revival, its Northern neighbour has seemingly been cut adrift.
Perhaps, though, all is not quite settled. The steady march of riverside apartment construction, that’s been filling every spare plot from the Pool of London to the Thames Barrier in the past decade, has now reached Silvertown. A herd of twirling cranes encircles Thames Barrier Gardens as new lift towers rise up. Long derelict hectares are being terraformed into new housing and business developments with names such as Silvertown Quays, Minoco Wharf, Barrier Park East and The Floating Village. As this tide of renewal laps at the fringes of North Woolwich, its future remains fluid and uncertain.